Elizabeth’s Zucchini-Whole Wheat Bread

Zucchini Cranberry Walnut Bread

I had been making that same old zucchini bread recipe that we all have: vats of oil, overly sweet, soggy.  I wanted to find a new recipe that used whole wheat flour, so one day I did some internet searching and found five.  I began with one and modified it so much that I now call it my own, rich with nuts and cranberries.  I never moved on to the other four, satisfied with this one.  When I took my friend Judy a slice or two, she gave it a thumb’s up.  She never lies, so it must be good.

About the flour: measuring the zucchini is never a science, more of a hit-and-miss.  Because of this, the amount of flour you’ll add in is also less of a science.    I have added up to the full 4 cups at some times.  If your bread is too wet, it will be soggy when cooked. If you add too much flour, your bread will be a brick.  I realize this assumes some experience in making fruit breads; just do your best.

Elizabeth’s Zucchini-Whole Wheat Bread

Yield: two loaves
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
approximately 4 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup butter, melted
1 Tablespoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 and 1/2 cups unbleached white whole wheat flour, from King Arthur (can also use whole wheat flour)
2 1/2  to 3 cups white flour (first add in 2 and 1/2 cups, then add more if your bread is too wet)
1 and 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 and 1/2 cups dried cranberries

Optional: zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 3 Tbls)

Preheat the oven to 350 and grease two loaf tins.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar and vanilla until well-blended.  Mix in the shredded zucchini, then the melted butter, and the lemon juice and zest (if you are using it). Stir together the whole wheat flour, spices, salt and baking soda and add to the zucchini mixture.  Check to see if your bread is too wet.  Depending on the size of my eggs (I use either large or extra-large) or how moist your zucchini is, you may need all of the flour listed.  You don’t want it flopping around in the bowl, but you don’t want it too dry, either.  (Perhaps it should be the liquidity of a fresh icy milkshake? if you’ve never made bread before; I’m just guessing here.)  Fold in the nuts and cranberries.  (If yours are in the freezer like mine are, because you bought the giant bag from a Big Box store, then un-glob them before adding.)

Pour into the two loaf pans and bake for 10 minutes.  Then lower the temperature to 325 and bake for 55-60 minutes longer, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  (If you are like me, one may have to cook longer than the other one.)  Cool in pans for 10 minutes, loosen edges with spatula and turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly, if you make it that long.

On all my fruit breads, I slice a thin layer off of each end, then cut the rest into slices.  I wrap them 4 slices at a time in waxed paper, then place them in a zipper plastic bag to store.  I also place three walnuts halves on top before baking, not only to indicate that they have nuts in them, but also because we love to eat nuts in our fruit breads.

Updated July 2013

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

This has to be the most beautiful fall dish I have ever made.  The combination of red onions, black beans, bits of yellow and red sweet peppers and that golden roasted sweet potato is just about the most amazing looking thing you’ll ever cook.  And it can also make your tummy rumble.  You’ve been warned. Even my husband with the cast iron stomach refused to eat it for the third time for that reason.

But boy, is it beautiful and it retains its color, even when you make too much and have to eat it for a third time (or not).

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Black Beans and Chili Dressing

by Mark Bittman, published in the New York Times

Time: 45 minutes

4 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds–that’s two large potatoes), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large onion, preferably red, chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh jalapeño chili
1 clove garlic, peeled
Juice of 2 limes
2 cups cooked black beans, drained (canned are fine)
1 red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro (opt)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put sweet potatoes and onions on a large baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, toss to coat and spread out in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast, turning occasionally, until potatoes begin to brown on corners and are just tender inside, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; keep on pan until ready to mix with dressing.

2. Put chilies in a blender or mini food processor along with garlic, lime juice, remaining olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Process until blended.

3. Put warm vegetables in a large bowl with beans and bell pepper; toss with dressing and cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve warm or at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day.

Yield: 4 servings.

Pear-Almond Tart

First you make the tart shell, and I love her advice to freeze it first.  Then the almond cream.  Let me just say: Blanched almonds? Converting regular almonds to blanched involves dunking them in boiling water for 60 seconds (no more), then rinsing them in cold water.  Then the skins can be pinched off, using thumb and forefinger.  (Videos can be found online, or you can just purchased blanched almonds).

SWEET TART DOUGH (Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s book BAKING FROM MY HOME TO YOURS)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

To make the dough:  Put the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine.  Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is cut in coarsely – the pieces will be the size of oatmeal flakes and pea-size pieces and that’s just fine.  Stir the egg, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition.  When the egg is in, process in long pulses – about 10 seconds each – until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds.  Just before your reaches this clumpy stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change – heads up.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface.

Very lightly and sparingly – make that very, very lightly and sparingly – knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

If you want to press the dough into a tart pan, now is the time to do it.

If you want to chill the dough and roll it out later (doable, but fussier than pressing), gather the dough into a ball (you might have to use a little more pressure than you used to mix in dry bits, because you do want the ball to be just this side of cohesive), flatten it into a disk, wrap it well and chill it for at least 2 hours or for up to 1 day.

To make a press-in crust:  Butter the tart pan and press the dough evenly along the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Don’t be stingy – you want a crust with a little heft because you want to be able to both taste and feel it.  Also, don’t be too heavy-handed – you want to press the crust in so that the pieces cling to one another and knit together when baked, but you don’t want to press so hard that the crust loses its crumbly shortbreadish texture.  Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially bake the crust:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil tightly against the crust.  Bake the crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove the foil.  If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon.  Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack; keep it in its pan.

FRENCH PEAR TART (with my modifications) Makes 6 servings

3 medium pears, firm but ripe

For the almond cream:
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 partially-baked 9-inch tart shell, made with Sweet Tart Dough (see above), at room temperature

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting, or apple jelly for glazing

To make the almond cream:  Put the butter and sugar in the workbowl of a food processor and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny.  Add the ground almonds and continue to process until well blended.  Add the flour and cornstarch, process, and then add the egg.  Process for about 15 seconds more, or until the almond cream is homogeneous.  Add the rum or vanilla and process just to blend.  If you prefer, you can make the cream in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a bowl with a rubber spatula.  In either case, the ingredients are added in the same order.  Scrape the almond cream into a container and either use it immediately or refrigerate it until firm, about 2 hours. (I had mine in the fridge for about 1 hour–worked fine.)

Getting ready to bake:  Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Have a lined baking sheet at the ready.  Peel the pears, cut them in half from blossom to stem and core them; rub them with lemon juice.  Then put them on some paper towels and pat them dry – really dry – so that their liquid won’t keep the almond cream from baking.

Fill the baked crust with the almond cream, spreading it evenly.

Thinly slice each pear half crosswise, lift each half on a spatula, press down on the pear to fan it slightly and place it, wide-end toward the edge of the crust, over the almond cream.  The halves will form spokes. (I only used five halves, using the other for a little cook’s snack.)

Put the crust on the lined baking sheet, slide the sheet into the oven and bake the tart 50 to 60 minutes, or until the almond cream puffs up around the pears and browns.  Transfer the tart to a rack to cool to just warm or to room temperature before unmolding.

Right before serving, dust the tart with confectioners’ sugar.

Her notes about storing:  You can make the almond cream up to 2 days ahead and keep it closely covered in the refrigerator, or you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; defrost before using.  However, once you’ve baked the tart, you should be prepared to enjoy it that same day.

Scallops & Sauteed Spinach with Hoisin Sauce

When I bought the Gourmet Cookbooks at Costco last year (moment of silence, please,  for the closing of Gourmet Magazine) a free one-year’s subscription came to Bon Appétit, the sister publication to Gourmet.  I don’t know if I’ll re-up, but I have to say it’s been a year’s adventure of recipes and cooking.  One issue in particular, the April 2009 issue, I used most of the recipes.  And this recipe, by Molly Stevens,  was one of them.  I remembered it again, because while looking for something to cook up for the Anniversary of Our First Date (some 21  years ago, which my husband refers to as our “semi-anniversary,” since he feels its not a one of the biggies) I found some scallops in the deep freeze, remembered the box of spinach in the fridge and the hoisin sauce in the cupboard.  Score!

I always cut the scallops through the middle to make them thinner, and to make us believe we have more (you can never have too many scallops in your life). They also cook in a flash that way. I use about 1 and 1/2 bags of spinach (approx 5 oz. each), but the same amount of scallions, etc for that step.  Since we don’t drink, I substitute apple juice for the mirin and the last substitution I make is for the chili sesame oil: sesame oil plus a couple of drops of tobasco (one can have too many jars in the fridge of specialized ingredients, I think).

Yield: Makes 6 servings

1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon hot chili sesame oil
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
1/4 cup chopped shallot (about 1 large)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, minced, divided
1 serrano chile, seeded, minced, divided (I used jalapeno–a little more mild)
4 5-ounce bags baby spinach
Coarse kosher salt (sea salt works fine)
2 pounds sea scallops, side muscles removed
1 tablespoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
3/4 cup finely chopped spring onions or green onions (white and pale green parts only)
1/4 cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)*

Whisk first 3 ingredients in small bowl to blend and reserve.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add shallot, 1 tablespoon ginger (I grate frozen peeled ginger instead of chopping it), 2 minced garlic cloves, and half of minced chile. Sauté until shallot is soft, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high and add 1 bag spinach. Stir until beginning to wilt. Add remaining spinach, 1 bag at a time, stirring between additions until just wilted. Season with coarse salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Sprinkle scallops with coarse salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon butter with peanut oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook scallops until brown on both sides and just opaque in center, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer scallops to plate; tent with foil.

Add 1 tablespoon butter, spring onions, remaining 1 teaspoon minced ginger, 2 minced garlic cloves, and remaining half of minced chile to skillet. Sauté until onions begin to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add mirin and simmer until reduced to glaze, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in hoisin mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low. Whisk in 2 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide spinach among plates. Top with scallops, dividing equally. Spoon sauce over and serve.